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2018 Reading Year In Review

Am I posting about 2018 at the end of February? Why yes, I am.

This year is zooming by and I'm still catching up. I left the Twin Cities mid-December, made previously planned pit-stops in Louisville and then Nashville, and then moved to Knoxville, TN at the end of the month. Shall I mention I didn't know I was going to move until December 1? Yep. It was a little crazy and it's no wonder I feel exhausted.

Still.  I cannot convey the amount of relief I feel over no longer being in Minnesota. It was such a long season of unknowns and temporary housing. I'm pondering an essay about it all but this update will hopefully suffice in the meantime.

In any case, I wanted to recap my reading year because it looked different from years past, mostly because of the Unread Shelf Project started by Whitney Conard


Unread Shelf Project Recap


PicMonkey Collage

At the start of 2018, I counted all the books on my unread shelf. I wanted to try to read five or six of those books every month to see if I could make a dent in the stacks. Originally, I was going to set TBRs each month and that only lasted about four or five months. It was good while it lasted but I do best when I'm free to read what I want, when I want it, library book due dates aside.

In all, I read 70 books from my unread shelf in 2018! I started the year off with 90-ish books and I’m ending the year with...94. 😂 Here’s to breaking even! I didn’t write down how many books I decided were no longer for me and passed along to a Little Free Library or sold to a used bookstore instead of reading. 

For those interested in the breakdown:
January: 9
February: 6
March: 6 + 1 DNF
April: 3 + 1 DNF (I decided to stop including DNFs after this)
May: 6
June: 7
July: 4
August: 1
September: 5
October: 8
November: 8
December: 7


I’m definitely going to keep this habit up in 2019! The Unread Shelf Project has helped me be more mindful about what I buy and even which review copies I accept from publishers. I haven't figured out the balance in visiting bookstores but I tend to be more self-controlled in independent bookstores than when I visit my favorite used bookstores. I dare you to live near a McKay Books and not take advantage of all the deals! 


Yearly Total and 2019 Goals

I read 314 books in 2018. If you do the math, that means 244 books came from the library or were ARCs. When I say I'm a library user because I could never support my book habit, I'm not lying!

And because someone will inevitably ask how I can read so much, read this. (My circumstances have changed but much of it is still true.) The game-changer for my reading life has been rarely watching TV. Not going to lie: I do miss my Real Housewives. But most evenings I'm content to curl up with a good book. I'm a prolific reader and I've felt weird about sharing my number the past few years because I don't want anyone to feel bad about whatever their number is. But this is an accomplishment and I'm celebrating my book nerdery!

I have a few bookish intentions for 2019, like using a spreadsheet or tally to track more stats and finishing a bunch of the 42 series I have in progress. I'm also trying really hard to keep up with book reviews, as those fell by the wayside last year. I don't think I reviewed half of what I read and I'm sad I don't have the record beyond a star rating on Goodreads. This year my motto is going to be “shorter reviews in a timely manner.” So far, I'm keeping up and it feels good.

For the record, I think of my blog and Instagram as a highlight reel, generally only sharing my 4 of 5 star reads and the occasional 3 star if it's by a favorite author. If you want to see it all, follow me on Goodreads!


Favorite Books of 2018

Just in case you missed my annual favorite book lists, here they are!

Favorite Fiction of 2018

Favorite Romance Novels of 2018

Favorite YA of 2018

Favorite Nonfiction of 2018

An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole {review}

An Unconditional Freedom (The Loyal League #3) - Alyssa Cole

An Unconditional Freedom

Genre: Historical Romance


My Review - 5 Stars

An Unconditional Freedom marks the end of the Loyal League series, a series that needs to be on the every reader’s TBR. While the series is historical romance, I believe it will appeal to non-romance readers as well. The way Alyssa Cole centers the narratives of free Black and enslaved people during the Civil War is not to be missed. This is an important part of American history.

I can't stop marveling over not only what Cole accomplished in this story but the series as a whole. She crafted an amazing story with staying power.

While the first two books in the series dealt more in intrigue, An Unconditional Freedom examines the cost of enslavement. Daniel was a free Black man when he was kidnapped and sold in to slavery. While his friends were eventually able to free him, he bears scars both literal and figurative. His quest for revenge leads him to join the Loyal League and he doesn’t care much about making friends, nor does he have much faith in America. His arc really pulled on my heartstrings.

Janeta is Cuban and her family moved to a Florida plantation after her mom, her father’s former slave, died. Her whole life she’s been told she’s special, she’s not like the enslaved, even if they have the same color skin. And eventually she stopped asking questions about the enslaved in the fields and believes her parents’ lies. But then her dad is thrown in jail by the Union army and her love interest tells her the only way he can be freed is if she spies on the Loyal League.

The beauty of Janeta’s story is watching her eyes open to the reality of slavery in both Cuba and the United States. Once she and Daniel are partnered together, she’s exposed to an entirely different world from the one she was raised in. From there, she has to work through whether she’ll betray Daniel and the Loyal League and what will happen to her father. There’s a lot we can learn from Janeta’s experience of understanding race and racism.

Daniel and Janeta faced high stakes and I had no idea how their happily ever after would come about in the midst of all they faced and their seemingly opposite goals. But it came through!  It was a slow burn but it was worth the wait. They were so good for one another, so good at seeing the best in one another once they got past their first impressions.

Alyssa Cole keeps outdoing herself with every book. I cannot recommend this series more highly, whether or not you’re a romance reader. The stories are that good and that important.

“Hate made good kindling, but hope burned much brighter.”


CW: slavery, racism, violence, threats of sexual assault



Daniel Cumberland’s uneventful life as a freed man in Massachusetts ended the night he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. To then have his freedom restored by the very man who stole his beloved’s heart is almost too much to bear. When he’s offered entry into the Loyal League, the covert organization of spies who helped free him, Daniel seizes the opportunity to help take down the Confederacy and vent the rage that consumes him.
When the Union Army occupies Janeta Sanchez’s small Florida town, her family’s goodwill and ties to Cuba fail to protect her father from being unjustly imprisoned for treason. To ensure her father’s release, Janeta is made an offer she can’t refuse: spy for the Confederacy. Driven by a desire for vengeance and the hope of saving her family, she agrees to infiltrate the Loyal League as a double agent.

Daniel is both aggravated and intrigued by the headstrong recruit. For the first time in months, he feels something other than anger, but a partner means being accountable, and Daniel’s secret plan to settle a vendetta and strike a blow for the Union can be entrusted to no one. As Janeta and Daniel track Jefferson Davis on his tour of the South, their dual hidden missions are threatened by the ghosts of their pasts and a growing mutual attraction—that might be their only hope for the future.


Buy The Book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice

Add To Goodreads


Book 1 An Extraordinary Union is currently on sale for $2.99: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book 2 A Hope Divided is currently on sale for  $2.99: Amazon | Barnes & Noble (Read my review.)


Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Kensington Books in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn {review}

The Huntress

Genre: Historical Fiction


My Review - 5 Stars

When I heard Kate Quinn had a new book coming out, I was immediately on board without even knowing the subject matter. After reading the synopsis, I was even more intrigued. The post-WWII setting proved to be refreshing in more ways than one and has lessons for us today, if we’re willing to listen.

The Huntress is told from three perspectives. Jordan is in her late teens, an aspiring photojournalist who works at her dad’s antique store. Ian is a British journalist-turned-Nazi hunter, alongside his coworker Tony. Nina is a bisexual former Russian bomber pilot. Ian, Tony, and Nina want to hunt down the Nazi murderess known as The Huntress. Where Jordan fits in is slowly revealed as the plot emerges.

Quinn knows how to weave a tale and I had no idea how the threads were going to intersect. The tension built with every page and I was kind of a nervous wreck by the end, wondering if the Huntress would be caught or if anyone would be hurt in the process.

I don’t know that I’ve read much fiction taking place after World War II and I loved learning more about this specific period, especially from Nina’s vantage point as a Russian. She’s the only character who has flashback scenes during the war, which gives us insight into how she became a pilot and how her path first intersected with Ian’s. Because of the Cold War and current events, it’s easy to villainize Russia but they were our allies during the war and this proved to be interesting history. While they were allies, all was not well for the country and Nina gives us a great window into that world, particularly as someone who was eager to be a bomber pilot but who was not a true believer in Stalin. This is contrasted by her girlfriend and fellow pilot Yelena who is all in for Stalin, regardless of what they see around them.

Nina was one of the most interesting, memorable characters I’ve encountered in some time. Her voice was distinct and I loved anytime we got more of her story, whether past or present. She and Ian had such a fascinating dynamic. She’s prickly and cold one minute, hot and impassioned the next, but always determined not to be vulnerable, no matter what.

The story does a great job of examining the line between human and monster, good and evil. This is especially crucial in the work Ian and Tony do. Will they succumb to torturing others in their quest to hunt down Nazis or will they stay the course and remember that how they catch them matters?

The Huntress also interrogates the idea of the “good” racist. Jordan’s stepmother Anna is casually anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and racist and it took me aback each time. Her character is fairly well established before she puts forth her abhorrent views and Jordan and her father react very differently. Jordan wants to push back and call her out, whereas Jordan’s dad wants to let it go, insisting that Anna is a good woman. Ah, but there’s where we can get into trouble. You can be “nice” and still believe and espouse awful things about other people. Racists, homophobes, anti-Semitics are not only Nazis and KKK members. They’re our next door neighbors, our family members, our friends, even ourselves. We have to interrogate our ingrained beliefs and we have to stand up for marginalized groups whenever we hear them disparaged. It’s how we prevent history from repeating itself.

This was a fascinating, compelling read. I didn’t know how it would stack up against The Alice Network but it more than exceeded my expectations. There were great twists and turns and I could not read the last 80 or so pages fast enough to see what would happen.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end. Quinn talks about actual events and people she based parts of her story on and it gave me even more understanding of how she crafted this.

CW: death of a loved one, grief, anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, threat of sexual assault, violence, bombing, murder, war



From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, THE ALICE NETWORK, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted… 

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth. 


Buy the Book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Add To Goodreads


Disclosure: I borrowed my friend's advanced copy. Yay for me! Affiliate links included in this post.

Rend (Riven #2) by Roan Parrish {review}



My Review - 5 Stars

This book ripped my heart out, as I knew it would. Parrish focuses on Matt and Rhys, the married couple we met in Riven, making it a different kind of romance story. Matt (Mexican-Italian) grew up in foster care and had a traumatic childhood; Rhys (white) is the first serious relationship he's ever had and he doesn't know what marriage should look like. Rhys, on the other hand, grew up in a stable, loving family and all he's ever wanted was to have the same relationship as his parents and to not have to choose between his partner and his career as a musician.

Their relationship is going well until Rhys goes away on tour and suddenly Matt realizes he's not doing as well as he thought he was since Rhys came into his life. We get Matt's POV and so we're right there with him throughout all the uncertainty and insecurity. Matt can never quite believe Rhys chose him and is certain Rhys deserves much better. It makes complete sense but it still broke my heart. I kept wanting to give Matt a hug!

Parrish did a fantastic job exploring people who grew up in foster care through Matt and unfurling each layer of privilege non-foster care people have. He’s such a brilliant, complex character. Her scenes are so vivid. I practically felt like it was *my* first night sleeping alone in a house or that I was the one walking block after block in the city. Matt works with teens who are aging out of the system and this added another layer to the story, as he sees kids who remind him of himself at that age, as well as what he's still processing and learning now as a 25 year old.

Rhys wants to be the protector and wants to make everything better for Matt. He really struggles with not being able to do so and it was so endearing to watch him begin to understand his privilege as he learns what Matt endured. At the same time, he does such an incredible job of simply loving his husband and reminding Matt of how much he cares about him and that he's never going to leave. I also loved how romantic Rhys is and how slow the pace of their relationship was when they first met. It was rather refreshing to see!

This book packed such an emotional wallop. I cried more than once and was tearing up in other places. I just felt so deeply for these characters and was rooting for them to find their way back to each other, no matter the doubts plaguing Matt. I loved watching them choose one another again. It was so deeply satisfying, as are all of Parrish's books. Her writing continues to astound me.

CW: references to childhood abuse and neglect, references to past bullying, grief, death of a minor character



After a whirlwind romance, a man with a painful past learns to trust the musician who makes him believe in happy endings.

Matt Argento knows what it feels like to be alone. After a childhood of abandonment, he never imagined someone might love him—much less someone like Rhys Nyland, who has the voice of an angel, the looks of a god, and the worship of his fans.

Matt and Rhys come from different worlds, but when they meet, their chemistry is incendiary. Their romance is unexpected, intense, and forever—at least, that’s what their vows promise. Suddenly, Matt finds himself living a life he never thought possible: safe and secure in the arms of a man who feels like home. But when Rhys leaves to go on tour for his new album, Matt finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past.

When Rhys returns, he finds Matt twisted by doubt. But Rhys loves Matt fiercely, and he’ll go to hell and back to triumph over Matt’s fears. After secrets are revealed and desires are confessed, Rhys and Matt must learn to trust each other if they’re going to make it. That means they have to fall in love all over again—and this time, it really will be forever.


Buy The Book:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Add To Goodreads


Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post.

Romance Novels, Defined


I share genre definitions and literary terminology on my Instagram Stories every so often. I've been planning to define romance for months now and finally got a chance to do it over the weekend and thought I'd create a version of it here as well.

February abounds with references to romance novels but people don't always get it right, likely because they've never taken the time to learn about the genre. There's a difference between love stories and romance novels. Here's the definition of the romance genre!

Alt text is listed below the graphic.



[Love stories are not the same as romance novels.]



[A romance novel needs a love story but a love story is not necessarily a romance.]


RWA definition

[According to Romance Writers of America, a romance novel has two requirements:

  1. A central love story
  2. It must have a happy (optimistic and emotionally satisfying) ending.]

Central love story

[1. A central love story 

The main plot centers around characters falling in love and figuring out how to make the relationship work.]


Happy ending

[2. It must have a happy (optimistic and emotionally satisfying) ending.

Also known as Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN.)]



[If you tell someone a book is romance and it doesn't have a happy ending? Romance readers will revolt. Don't mess with the happy ending!]


Not a romance_ Nicholas Sparks Me Before You Bridget Jones's Diary

[Not a romance:

Nicholas Sparks

Me Before You

Bridget Jones's Diary]


Nicholas Sparks (1)

[Nicholas Sparks

Despite how often his books are erroneously shelved there, even the author will say he doesn't write romance. He writes love stories, with nary a happily ever after in sight.]


Me Before You does center on two characters but is the goal for them to fall in love_ No  even if the story ends up going there. (In a romance  this would be clear in the first couple of chapters.) Louisa's dating so

[Me Before You does center on two characters but is the goal for them to fall in love? No, even if the story ends up going there. (In a romance, this would be clear in the first couple of chapters.) Louisa's dating someone else and needs to get a handle on her life. Plus, spoiler alert: there's no happy ending here.]


Books categorized as _chick lit_ or women's fiction are trickier but there's your first clue. Chick lit and women's fiction are not romance novels  even if they have a strong love story. The love story is a secondary

[Books categorized as "chick lit" or women's fiction are trickier but there's your first clue. Chick lit and women's fiction are not romance novels, even if they have a strong love story. The love story is a secondary plot.]


Bridget Jones

[In the case of Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget is focused on self-improvement, which frames the novel. She even dates someone who isn't the hero for a good chunk of the novel. The plot cares more about Bridget's growth than centering the love story.]


So does this make romance formulaic_ NO!

[So does this make romance formulaic? No!]


Setting readers

[Setting readers' expectations is the gift of genre fiction.]


Charaters will fall in love

[Characters will fall in love and live happily ever after in romance.

A murder mystery will be solved in the end.

Fantasy will transport you to another world.]


Romance  and genre fiction

[Romance, and genre fiction in general, is no more predictable and formulaic than any other kind of literature. Give five authors the same premise and you'll get five different books.]


Interested in trying romance or exploring more of the genre?

Favorite Romance Novels Of 2018

Favorite Contemporary Romance Novels (including a Romance Starter Kit)

How I Became A Romance Reader 



Romance Novels  Defined |